Archive for the 'Brand management' Category

Why did Walmart acquire Bonobos?

In case you missed it (among the front-page coverage of Amazon and Whole Foods), Walmart acquired men’s online retailer Bonobos last week. RetailWire panelists weighed in on the pluses and minuses of the move, and here’s my take:

The news about Walmart and Bonobos was overshadowed by the Amazon headline on Friday, and understandably so because of the sheer scope and boldness of the Whole Foods acquisition. But Walmart’s news deserves some attention on its own.

This is another case where Walmart is buying a brand that offers more digital expertise and product development skill than the company appears able to build on its own. But there is a disconnect between Walmart’s brand image and the customers who are shopping Bonobos today. Chances are good that the majority of Whole Foods customers are already Amazon Prime members too. How much overlap exists between Bonobos and Walmart, and will the association with Walmart chase away Bonobos’s most loyal consumers?

Has data science killed the art of marketing?

RetailWire presents a deliberate (and provocative) false choice to its panelists today: Does the growth of data science mean that marketing and advertising have lost their creative touch? I disagree with the argument, and here’s my point of view:

It’s easy to romanticize the “good old days” of marketing and advertising — think of Don Draper cliffside, coming up with his greatest inspiration — but the reality is that data science has always played a role. (It used to be called marketing research.) The fact that data collection and analysis is far more sophisticated today doesn’t diminish the importance of creativity and instinct. Marketing is in part the art of creating an emotional link through brand equity, but it needs the grounding in facts and results that data science can provide.

Does Gordmans have a future as an off-pricer?

Stage Stores bought the Gordmans Midwest-based chain out of bankruptcy earlier this year, and announced plans to convert it from a promotional department store to an off-pricer. I commented on a RetailWire panel discussion about the game plan along with Stage Stores’ decision to maintain multiple nameplates:

From my recollection shoppoing a few Gordmans stores in the past, they were a Kohl’s wannabe without the geographic footprint to be sustainable. Now they are aiming to be a TJ Maxx wannabe but will still be saddled with the same problems. It’s tough to enter an increasingly crowded sector without the physical footprint or the buying power to compete against TJX, Ross Store and now Backstage.

Stage Stores is trying to maintain multiple concepts and brands (Peebles, Goodys, Bealls and now Gordman). Why not operate one concept under one brand-name umbrella? It’s the “Bon Ton syndrome” where none of the individual brand names is strong enough to overcome the lack of scale.

Changing of the guard at J. Crew

The decision by longtime J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler to step aside was widely reported yesterday. (I recently discussed the departure of the company’s creative director.) Drexler is being replaced by James Brett, current president of the West Elm lifestyle brand. RetailWire panelists discussed what to anticipate at J. Crew, and I wrote the following:

First, keep in mind that Mickey Drexler is not exactly riding into the sunset: He retains his chairman title and a significant ownership in the company. So it remains to be seen whether Mr. Brett has the freedom to reshape the company as much as it needs. It’s not always easy for somebody with Mr. Drexler’s track record to walk away.

As to the reshaping, I expect to see a few things happen: First, a faster expansion of the Madewell business. Second, a course correction for the J. Crew brand itself, perhaps back to its legacy positioning as a more affordable (but still aspirational) alternative to Ralph Lauren. (Right now it’s nowhere close to a clear point of view.) And, third, expanding the J. Crew brand (once it is fixed) into new categories, just as Mr. Brett has done by treating West Elm as a lifestyle business.

Is the era of brick-and-mortar growth dead?

The wave of store closures this year (and beyond) casts a shadow over traditional brick-and-mortar retailing, but it’s premature to declare it a dead end for companies that still have growth prospects. Here’s my RetailWire commentary on the issue:

In business school many years ago, I took a retailing class from a marketing professor who often said, “There’s no such thing as ‘over-stored,’ but under-retailed.” Obviously the glut of square footage is an even bigger problem than in 1977, given the development of exurban sprawl, big box stores, new mall formats, retail consolidation, and (of course) e-commerce. But the teacher’s point still has relevance today.

Some stores continue to have a good chance to expand their physical footprint. (There has been recent comment, here and elsewhere, about chains like Zara and Uniqlo being opportunistic about picking up others’ sites.) But growth for its own sake means nothing without a clear brand identity, coherent merchandising and smart use of technology to drive loyalty and omnichannel initiatives.

What can retailers learn from the United fiasco?

Like everybody else, RetailWire panelists enjoyed a chance to speak out about the well-reported United Airlines incident, in which an overbooked passenger was dragged off the plane. The question I try to answer, below, is “What can retailers learn from this?”:

Consumers have choices of retailers, just as they (often) have choices of airlines and other service providers. One of the lessons that any customer-facing business ought to take away from the United fiasco is the need to empower employees to look past the policy manual when it’s time to exercise some good judgment. (In the case of United, it would have been easier to seek volunteers for rebooking instead of working from a mandatory list.) Policies are meant to protect a retailer’s assets and to manage risk, but they shouldn’t turn into a roadblock to common sense.

And the second lesson learned: If your company hasn’t learned the power of viral social networking by now, you’d better get your communications act together fast. Above all, don’t blame the consumer for your own missteps.

L.L. Bean considers a new return policy

From a recent RetailWire discussion, I comment on L.L.Bean’s consideration of a less liberal return policy than it has always been known for:

Having worked for Kohl’s for 24 years, I have a bias toward more forgiving return policies. Kohl’s always viewed its return policies as a competitive advantage and marketing practice (even though there was plenty of gnashing of teeth among the merchant ranks) and I believe this is still the case. Stores can maintain this kind of trust with their customers, even if they look at tweaking the policy through issuance of gift cards for goods returned without receipts or after some time has passed.

I’d be very careful if I were L.L.Bean to walk away from part of what has defined its brand for a long time. As another panelist suggests, look for other reasons why costs are rising faster than sales, starting with merchandise assortments.